Currently, more than 500 million single-use plastic straws are used and thrown away every day in the U.S. as Americans use them at a rate of 1.6 straws per person per day. That adds up to a staggering 175 billion plastic straws per year, with many of them finding their way into landfills, waterways and oceans.
A recent National Geographic report highlighted the impact of plastics on marine wildlife, revealing that more than 100,000 marine animals, including sea turtles, die each year as the result of plastics making their way into the oceans. According to the Network for Sea Turtles (N.E.S.T.), plastic straws are the second most commonly ingested plastic item found in turtles. Since the passageways for food and air in a turtle are connected much like they are in humans, the threat to turtles is especially serious.
BIRTH OF THE ALUMINUM SEA-STRAW
On a recent trip to Key West, William Marshall, co-owner of LizBets, and a long-time manufacturing veteran, was presented with the issue first hand. While there, he met with Ralph Capone, president of The Key West Sea Turtle Club, who made clear to him the scope and gravity of the plastic straw problem. Capone explained that the situation is approaching epidemic proportions with some species of sea turtles facing virtual extinction.
That night, Marshall began researching the issue and drew on his years of manufacturing experience to reach a possible solution. Already quite familiar with the aluminum extrusion manufacturing process, he was well versed in the properties and benefits of aluminum. Marshall wondered, ‘Why not substitute aluminum as a reusable alternative to the plastic straw?’ The very next day, Marshall met with Capone to share his idea, and the Sea-Straw was born.
ALUMINUM IS A SMART CHOICE
As a natural substitute material for plastic straws, aluminum is lightweight and environmentally safe. It is also durable, lightweight and is also considerably less expensive than competing materials like stainless steel. Tested and proven, aluminum is an outstanding temperature conductor. Marshall explains, “As a person sips a drink through an aluminum straw, it generates a cooling effect, essentially making the drink colder.”
With business connections that involve the extrusion process dating back to the 1980s, Marshall reached out to industry colleagues and professionals to find a manufacturing source for his idea. One of them suggested contacting Minalex, a family-owned company that has specialized in manufacturing miniature aluminum extrusions for more than 50 years. The recommendation of the NJ-based company proved to be the ideal solution for LizBets. The challenges they faced included a drinking straw’s small diameter and initial production runs in very limited quantities, something that many companies simply cannot accommodate. Michael Casey, Vice President Sales & Planning for Minalex stated, “We are one of only a few companies with a die size that can produce this type of aluminum straw and provide the finished extrusions in very small numbers.”
An initial run of six hundred aluminum straws was provided to LizBets for trial use and testing. Based on immediate positive feedback, the company quickly placed a larger order. Going forward, the company anticipates partnering with Minalex to produce large quantities of these aluminum straws for commercial use in a range of colors and configurations, in a variety of different usage scenarios. Minalex is supplying the cut-to-length aluminum straws that are deburred at both ends. Marshall explains the relationship, “The Minalex team has been extremely attentive and accommodating. They were excited about the possibilities right from the beginning. They listened closely, and have been very responsive to our needs. We look forward to a great relationship.”
ORGANIC DYES, 100% ENVIRONMENTALLY SAFE
In achieving a desired color, the aluminum straws go through an organic dye coloring process that involves 100% organic dyes, which are National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) certified and metal-free. Completely organic and environmentally safe, the process is also American National Standards Institute (ANSI) 51 certified, indicating safe usage for food application without any heavy metals.
The aluminum straws are dishwasher safe with mild soaps and tested for high heat steam. LizBets will also offer a washing station for commercial use, so businesses such as restaurants or bars can easily wash the aluminum straws for continued use. In terms of packaging, paper sleeves will be offered so customers do not have to “handle” the straw. As a result, businesses will be able to sell the straws as an item in their gift shop. Aluminum straws can come in a variety of colors, even clear coated. LizBets offers a color chart to show the range of organic dye options. Marshall adds. “Depending on the intended use, we can also produce to a customized length.”
COMING TO A BUSINESS AND RESORT NEAR YOU
LizBets anticipates opportunities for aluminum to replace plastic straws in restaurants, bars, colleges, hospitals, as well as corporations. They have already had conversations with a number of major cruise lines, resorts, spas and several major hotel chains. For promotional and branded use, aluminum straws can be etched with a brand’s name, presenting unique marketing opportunities that carry with them additional impressions of environmental responsibility and wildlife stewardship. Some other possibilities for use and customization include corporate events, conventions and conferences, and even weddings.
ALUMINUM SEA-STRAWS ON DISPLAY IN LOS ANGELES
In August, LizBets will be on hand during the Western Foodservice & Hospitality Expo August 19-21 at the Los Angeles Coliseum, where attendees will be introduced to the eco-friendly aluminum straws, and have an opportunity to learn more about the plastic straw crisis and its adverse effects on the environment and marine wildlife.